Should Brewers Be Worried About Free-Agent Bargain Matt Garza's Awful Spring?

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterMarch 12, 2014

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If Matt Garza is trying to make a good first impression with his new club, he isn't going about it in the best way. The Milwaukee Brewers' biggest acquisition of the offseason had a third straight spring showing that was a little too short and not all that sweet.

Garza, who inked a four-year, $50 million contract over the winter, surrendered a whopping 10 runs (six earned) on nine hits in all of 1.2 innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old right-hander was done in by a brutal second inning in which the Angels crossed the plate eight times, forcing the Brewers to pull Garza even before he could register the sixth out of the game and get through the frame.

That left Garza with the following stats so far this spring, as Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com pointed out:

Those numbers? They ain't pretty. The question, then, is whether Milwaukee should be worried about what Garza has shown so far.

Garza, of course, is a talented mid-rotation arm with a handful of strong seasons and some postseason success on his resume, but he doesn't come without concerns. To wit, he's proved to be increasingly injury prone in recent years, having hit the disabled list in each of his past three seasons, as this table details:

Matt Garza's Innings Pitched and Injuries by Season (Since 2009)
SEASONINNINGSINJURYGAMES MISSED
2009203.0NoneNone
2010204.2NoneNone
2011198.0Right elbow bone contusion17
2012103.2Right elbow stress fracture69
2013155.1Right lat muscle strain43
Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference

You'll notice there are three fairly serious arm/shoulder-related injuries, all to Garza's right side, which at least suggest the possibility that the wear and tear has been getting to him.

That might be why, at the time of the signing, manager Ron Roenicke said (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com), "We need to keep [Garza] healthy and get those innings from him. He's good. He's got good stuff. He's a great competitor. He prepares well. He's going to help any staff he's on."

Another factor to consider is that as a free agent, Garza, you'll recall, had to wait a rather long time this winter before finding a new home.

The deal with Milwaukee was finalized on Jan. 26, which was in time for Garza to report with all the other Brewers pitchers and catchers. Is it possible, though, that he's feeling a bit out of whack because he spent most of the offseason wondering where his career would take him next? Perhaps, but that's likely just fishing for a narrative.

Here is where it should be pointed out that this isn't exactly the first time Garza has been bad in spring training. In March 2012, he gave up 13 runs on 18 hits and nine walks in 16.1 innings. Back in 2011, he was even worse: 25 runs on 35 hits and 14 free passes in 21.2 frames.

In short, this is nothing new for a veteran who knows the drill by now.

Certainly, for a Brewers team that has some star power in the lineup and rotation but lacks depth and needs a lot to go right in order to bounce back into playoff contention after a disappointing 2013 (74-88), seeing their big-money arm struggle right away has to be at least a little frustrating.

But all that said, we're still talking about three outings in early March.

Garza himself acknowledged as much after his initial start as a Brewer on March 2, his first clunker. After surrendering four runs on four hits and two walks while failing to record a strikeout, Garza said that he's not "throwing everything in my repertoire" and acknowledged that he's focusing primarily on locating his fastball and developing his changeup.

As for Wednesday's mauling, Garza didn't let his performance—which wasn't helped by a pair of errors by Brewers infielders in that second inning—get to him, as he told McCalvy:

Bad as Garza has been, the real reason he's getting any attention because of it this time around is that he's with a new team that just handed him $50 million. That comes with expectations of good things—and provides ammunition when bad things happen instead.

From the Brewers' perspective, as well as Garza's, the focus shouldn't be on the results right now, as they'll have 30-plus starts that count to worry about that—that is, if Garza can, in fact, avoid a fourth straight year with a DL stint and take his turn every time out, which should be the primary objective at this point.

As long as Garza comes out of camp healthy and ready to go, that's the only impression that really counts.

 

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11